Dmitri Hvorostovsky plays by his own rules. The opera star from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, still youthful at 51, eschews customary matinee-idol manners and mannerisms. And he does so with agreeable conviction.
For his intimate recital on Wednesday, he chose Carnegie Hall, capacity 2,803, and drew a large if not full house. For his programme, he avoided hum-along hits and bon-bons, concentrating instead on stark, doom-and-gloomy songs by the well known Sergei Rachmaninov and the little known – very little known – Georgy Sviridov.
Making a personal, also personable, fashion statement, the baritone strode onstage with his prematurely white mane draped across a long black coat with glitzy lapels covering an open black shirt. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau never looked like this.
The crowd cheered lustily, even after a spokesman came out to request silence between numbers. Our tasteful hero refused to take bows at every Luftpause, but he did signal grinning gratitude. The nice-guy image remained untarnished.
Hvorostovsky’s voice is still full, rich, dusky, wide-ranging. He still commands the smoothest legato in captivity. He takes one breath where mundane artists take four. He can sing softly, when he wants to, and he savours the rare impact of a sustained diminuendo. He articulates Russian texts with flair that instantly draws in listeners – this one, for instance – who do not command the language.
Still, on this occasion he flirted with frustration. A little Russian Weltschmerz can go a long way, and he gave us a lot. Apart from the lovely Lilacs, the 11 Rachmaninov offerings that took up the first half of the evening seemed even darker and more dismal than tradition might dictate. He sang them, moreover, with unflagging intensity that bordered on the monochromatic. In the nine taut selections from Sviridov’s neo-romantic Petersburg, completed in 1995, he revealed greater dynamic sensitivity and increased involvement. Still, one would have welcomed a more varied repertory, more light, more shade.
Ivari Ilja, the celebrated Estonian pianist, provided sympathetic support at every sombre turn.